Author Archives: Richard Gibson

Richard Gibson

About Richard Gibson

Richard works for Return Path in their UK office managing the relationship with their channel partners, predominately email technology providers. Return Path seeks to perfect the art and science of email by championing inbox standards for senders and receivers.

He is also a long standing Email Marketing Council member having been elected twice to the council, originally joining as a co-opted member in 2003. Prior to which he served on the Business-to-Business board elected committee between 2001 and 2003.

Since 2004 he has Chaired the Benchmarking Hub which continues to deliver The National Email Marketing Benchmark on a quarterly basis along with the annual client survey which has become an important source of information for DMA members.

He also worked with IAB (Internet Advertising Bureau) to organise the first ever joint evening event between the two trade bodies; ‘Email Marketing: Art or Science’ held at The Rex Cinema in February 2007.

He has regularly contributed to trade press articles, blogs and a book on the topic of Email Marketing and has chaired and spoken at UK DMA events as well as presenting DMA research in several European countries. In 2005 he was voted by B2B Marketing Magazine as one of the top twenty opinion formers in the UK.

Prior to joining Return Path in April 2009 he was Commercial Director for RSA Direct and has many years direct and interactive marketing experience.

Is it your time to get engaged with the Email Marketing Council?

The election season is upon us. And it is important to both the DMA and the Email Marketing Council to ensure this is as widely publicised as possible as the work of the EMC requires a full council and one that is as widely representative of all constituent stakeholders as possible.

Over time we have had members that have been very active participants, who for whatever reason have stood down and the election time lends itself to be the perfect time to bring new members to assist with the work of the council. Two such recent members that have stood down are Denise Cox of Newsweaver and Simon Bowker of Teradata/eCircle both of whom have contributed to numerous projects and outputs in their time as a council members and I’d like to extend my personal thanks to them both for their efforts and valuable contributions over numerous years.

Immediately post-elections the council must align its outputs and objectives for 2013-2014 in line with the DMA’s business plan and the initiatives from the Chairs of all of the DMA councils which include; putting the foundations in place for greater cross-council collaboration and supporting development of the value chain and improving the customer journey.

The Email Marketing Council has some objectives that are on-going including the updating of the Council’s Best Practice Document, the production of White Papers all of which are designed to help the membership and support our desired goal to champion email as an essential part of the greater marketing mix and an effective direct marketing channel.

In short there is much work to do and those with an appetite for helping should consider standing and getting involved as proactive council members – now is the perfect time to get involved. I consider us to be an accessible council as we maintain an open door policy to observers that wish to attend our council meetings as well as encouraging active participation to the work of one of our hubs. If you have previously considered standing for election and for whatever reason have not done so historically then I would encourage you to reconsider, but do so quickly as you do not have long at all – the closing date for entries is this coming Friday 22nd March at 5:30pm.

The website to register as a candidate can be found here, if you have any questions please contact either myself or Georgina Lippa (Project Manager, Media Channels) directly via email: or via telephone: 020 7291 3317.

Richard Gibson, Chair Email Marketing Council and Director Client Services, Return Path.

A further chance for your input on the proposed EU Data Protection Regulation

For some marketers the very mention of future legislative framework changes and the mind immediately begins to wander. Add to that the words ‘Data’ and ‘Protection’ and it could instil fear, uncertainty and possibly a fair amount of doubt. The fact that the EU is involved is likely to add further concern. Such themes or topics as data portability, the right to be forgotten and how personal data is defined impact directly on many of us in marketing and these proposals are just too big to be ignored.

The DMA has put itself at the very forefront of the debate and led a cross industry working group bringing together many other industry bodies including; IAB, IMRG, Federation of Small Businesses, COADEC and other bodies. This initiative has been led by the team at the DMA along with lobbying efforts on multiple fronts headed by the Director of Public Affairs, Caroline Roberts. All DMA members have been both asked for input into the information that went to the Ministry of Justice at the start of this year which was submitted in September, the DMA’s Chair Scott Logie chaired a meeting with government late in October.

This is possibly the single biggest issue facing all DMA members, irrespective of channels used to communicate to customers, which is why at the Email Marketing Council level there have been discussions on the impact and we plan to use this blog to collect some of our thinking on the various elements of the proposed legislation.

This is where you, the readers of this blog as email marketing constituents come in – as elected representatives we want your input. As with any elected group, we have our thoughts and ideas which we’ve debated and discussed at council level. The proposed legislation presents some very evident challenges for email marketers. What we, as a council agreed to do is post a series on the key themes over the coming months which debate some of the key points – each written by one of our council members. Specifically debating a subsection of the proposed regulation along the lines of; here is what the EU’s proposal says and here is what it could mean for email marketers.

I am proud to serve a very active council and such a vibrant interest group as email marketing. The council has been active on a number of fronts and this blog is itself very well-read. The discussion and debate from within the email industry (which is you!) is what makes this an exciting and dynamic industry to be part of. I’d therefore urge and encourage all stakeholders to provide feedback on the forthcoming blog posts – I’d love to hear your thoughts and feelings on these themes. You are of course also welcome to contact either me directly or any member of the DMA team.

Richard Gibson, Chair Email Marketing Council and Director Client Services, Return Path.

Email Customer Lifecycle: List Growth

Due to exceptionally good feedback in 2010, the Email Marketing Council decided to re-run the Email Customer Lifecycle series albeit with different speakers, case studies and content. So whilst the overall concept remains the same the content is completely different. In case you have never been to one of these events before the format is quite simple and always held in a morning with a great amount of content in around two and a half hours, allowing attendees to only be out of the office for a short period of time.

The first one of 2011 got off to an excellent start late last month on the topic of list growth or acquisition. The keynote speaker was Richard Evans of Silverpop set the scene for the morning: how do marketers grow their lists whilst balancing all of the internal stakeholder pressure and at the same time, where to most appropriately focus the efforts for the most reward. Several options were presented, along with case study data from leading brands across the morning and speakers included Susan Young of Screwfix, Richard Austin of Silverpop, Denise Cox of Newsweaver and Guy Hanson of dbg. I was impressed not only by the quality of the speakers and the content but the level of engagement and interaction from the audience who challenged the expert panel.

Feedback from the event was incredibly positive and if last year is anything to go by I expect to see many DMA members presenting, participating in case studies and attending the future events in this series. The next event in the Email Customer Lifecycle series will be on the topic of Conversion with two great case studies by MyVoucherCode and CentreParcs, and will take place on 12th July 2011, and is sponsored by Silverpop. Space is limited, so book now to ensure a place at this free event.

If you are interested in attending, or speaking at a future DMA event please contact Amelia Bingham at the DMA.

Language and deliverability

Taken, as I have been of late to reading about the topic of language and linguistics I paused to think how the topic might relate to deliverability, often seen as a deeply technical subject. It is my hope that the metaphor of language may be useful to those that consider deliverability a deeply technical subject.

Just as the English language evolved from Proto-English to the Modern English we use today the definitions of actual words and their usage has changed and evolved. How does this relate to deliverability? Allow me to explain – depending on who you talk to deliverability can, and historically has been defined differently – rather, inconsistently. Certain actors may define deliverability as the number of emails for which bounce codes are not returned; personally I prefer to think of this as an accepted rate and not perfectly helpful and far from an accurate success measure. At best it gives an indication of what may have been received by the ISP’s. A further challenge for those technically minded is that these bounce codes vary and aren’t always reliable in terms of interpreting where the email message was ultimately delivered to – if at all. The definition of deliverability calculated from number of email sent, less the bounces could also be more accurately reported as ‘received’ as in received by the receiving server – i.e. not rejected.

However if you follow with the language and linguistic theme and specifically English accents ‘Received Pronunciation’ (which is sometimes known as The Queen’s English, Oxford English or BBC English) has historically been seen as a standard for ‘correct’ pronunciation. In my mind whilst ‘accepted’ and ‘received’ are in the vocabulary it creates confusion in respect of deliverability and they are far from perfect or correct. For me the preferable definition is a measure of delivered to the actual inbox. It is far more reliable than using the aforementioned bounce codes and more indicative of success.

Just as from the 16th Century onwards there was a movement to standardise the English language, particularly spellings which varied mostly because of many regional dialects. Creating uniformity was aided, in part by dictionaries of varying quality. With the release of the next iteration of the DMA’s ‘Email Benchmarking Report: Half 1 2010’ data on inbox placement is available for the first time. It is my hope that for email marketers this will have a similar effect as Johnson’s Dictionary had on the English language in the 18th Century – namely to provide the definitive and pre-eminent definition.

Whilst I expect that just like those dictionaries available before the publication of Johnson’s other definitions of deliverability won’t disappear overnight it is my hope that this document and the incorporation of this new data point will help email marketers by defining deliverability to the inbox as an important success metric and the most correct way to define deliverability.

DMA members are able to download the report here.

Captain: Red alert! Incoming variable response signals!

Those familiar with the original ‘Star Trek’ television series may be familiar with the following scenario; a previously un-seen character that happens to wear a red coloured uniform is amongst the first to be teleported from the Starship Enterprise to a new planet after the distress signals are heard on the bridge. An unspeakable peril waits on the new planet. Our previously un-seen character is amongst the first or indeed the very first to meet a tragic end.This ‘signposting’ technique can frequently be found elsewhere in cinema and television and not just in Star Trek, you don’t have to look very far to find it.

What on earth does this have to do with the subject in hand, namely email marketing? Quite a bit and more than you’d think actually. Signposting, whilst recognisable in the television example just doesn’t happen in terms of deliverability. The ISPs or filtering companies aren’t in the habit of communicating to marketers the landscape that they are responding to.

That is because their primary goal is to protect their customers and not to help or signpost for the benefit of email marketers. The ISPs have to respond to a dynamically changing set of incoming mail streams and threats to their network and their customers. The same is true for the filtering companies whose customers may be the ISPs or those that aim to secure their corporate infrastructure. Their objectives for their customers may include conserving resources, saving bandwidth and stopping all incoming threats.

What this means in practical terms for marketers is that just because you have good deliverability and inbox placement rates today, doesn’t mean that it will remain so tomorrow and in to the future. It’s this variability that impacts response. As an example it may transpire that a marketer notices a significant depression in opens or clicks from a segment of the database. Upon deeper investigation the impact can be clearly seen across one or two important domains. Logic may suggest that the receiving ISP (or filtering company) may be blocking the incoming mail.

This variability can be evident to those with access to the actual inbox placement data, those without it most likely will struggle to understand, troubleshoot and ultimately rectify the root cause. Whilst ISPs don’t signpost in the same way that ‘Star Trek’ did, marketers can minimise the impact in variability by understanding their reputation, knowing their inbox placement and considering third party accreditation programmes.

Dreaming about deliverability

The plot of the science fiction film ‘Inception’ centres on the interesting concept of planting ideas in the dreams of the unwitting dreamer, the objective being that so that when the ‘dreamer’ awakens the idea is freshly planted in the subconscious.
This imaginative concept set my mind racing on which ideas, specifically related to deliverability I would plant in some marketer’s minds as key thoughts so that when they awaken the ideas might crystallise during waking hours:

1. Move away from the thought process that all emails that are sent make it into the inbox. Not true! In fact, ISPs, filtering companies and consumers all block, filter and report email as spam, meaning that only a subset of all mail sent is actually delivered to the inbox.

2. Focus on improvements; be obsessive about understanding what the metrics are that can improve overall response, start to think about Inbox Placement Rates (IPR), seek to improve, make it a KPI. Challenge all comers who state ‘delivered’ or ‘accepted’ is a reliable guide to what makes it to the inbox, because it is not. The fundamentals of reliable calculations require the accurate use of a broader collection of metrics.

3. Think about deliverability, not as a terse-technical subject dominated by those responsible in the technical team, or that someone else worries about so they the marketers don’t have to .Think about it as something that everyone in the organisation should be aware of and have some insight of.

After the dream the marketer will awaken with these three thoughts at least somewhere in the mind and when met with the word ‘deliverability’ their eyes won’t glaze over or worse still ignore one of the most important aspects and barriers to success.

Richard Gibson, Channel Relationship Manager at Return Path and Chair, Email Marketing Council. Twitter: @RichardGibson.

Some thoughts on deliverability as we start 2010

Whilst everyone is full of excitement around the New Year and making predictions for 2010 I’d like to take time and ponder the DMA National Client Email Marketing Report (free for DMA members) that came out late in 2009. This is the companion piece for the quarterly surveys and tracks only the clients (or the actual marketers) viewpoint rather than their technology providers.

There is much to digest in the report and I recommend it to one and all. The thing that is most interesting for me to read is the actual concerns that marketers have and they have several it seems. The specific question was worded; “Which of the following are you most concerned about?” Top of the list for both B2C and B2B marketers alike was deliverability; top of the list means the client marketer’s number one concern. That’s right, you read it correctly, the number one concern for email marketers was deliverability and that is ahead of concerns such as clicks and conversion rates.

Although it may sound obvious but simply put without deliverability, and very specifically delivery to the recipients inbox those click and conversation rates will be depressed. Indeed the ROI of the overall marketing programme will be less than it could be.

Yet deliverability remains for some a confusing term, what does it mean? Who is actually responsible? How can I reliably measure and improve upon it? What can I do to improve upon it? Wait a minute are my messages even reaching the inboxes?

Whilst I don’t plan to tackle these questions in this post, I will make some predictions on the topic of deliverability for 2010. Firstly getting messages delivered to the inbox is, for many reasons not going to get any easier. Why? Because as ISPs get better at identifying truly criminal spam, they will focus more attention on the email practices of legitimate mailers. And as they rely more on trusted whitelists and start using engagement metrics to determine if mail is actually wanted, marketers will have to work harder to achieve relevancy in the inbox by developing loyal subscribers that regularly open, click and convert. Secondly, and following on from this, monitoring email deliverability will become more important than ever for all marketers. Those who want to outperform their competitors, cut through inbox clutter and earn higher response rates will want to understand which factors drive good deliverability and demand greater insight into whether their messages actually arrived in the inbox.

The data point they will now covet is the Inbox Placement Rate (IPR) a metric that is fast becoming widespread as marketers become savvier about measuring true ROI and a metric marketers are more frequently asking their technology providers to provide in order to gain full visibility of their email marketing programme. If you are a marketer and would like to find out more, why not take our quick three question survey here.